Citizens groups file complaint against officials alleging they violated state open meetings law

August 27, 1999|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

Citizen groups are challenging a committee of top local elected officials who reportedly met in private last weekend to make a controversial decision endorsing new road projects.

They alleged in a complaint filed yesterday with the state's Open Meetings Law Compliance Board that the gathering violated state law.

"It's hard for the public to have an influence on decisions that affect their quality of life when you have back-room deals," said Jamie Kendrick of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, which filed the complaint. The Environmental Defense Fund and 1,000 Friends of Maryland, a grass-roots organization, joined the action.

"We hope to bring these decisions out of the back rooms and into the light of public scrutiny," Kendrick said. The two-page complaint took aim at members of the regional Transportation Steering Committee, which includes the executives of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties.

According to the document, the committee met behind closed doors last weekend during the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) conference in Ocean City. In that the meeting, the group discussed how to deal with recent findings that excessive motor vehicle emissions had pushed the Baltimore region out of compliance with the Clean Air Act, the suit says.

The group decided to move forward with the road projects using misleading motor vehicle data, rather than delay construction until the pollution problem could be solved, the complainants charge.

At a public meeting Tuesday, staff members took a vote approving that decision on behalf of Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens, and the other elected officials without public discussion.

Elise Armacost, Ruppersberger's spokeswoman, denied yesterday that there was a closed meeting or a vote by the group at MACo. "What happened was you had an impromptu convergence at MACo," she said. "They happened to see each other. This was on their minds. The charges are a bit ludicrous. There was no mutually agreed-upon decision."

A spokesman for Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, also a member of the Transportation Steering Committee, said he was not present at the Ocean City meeting, and his delegate to Tuesday's meeting abstained from voting.

The officials have 30 days to respond in writing to the compliance board. The board is expected to make a decision within 30 days after that.

Pub Date: 8/27/99

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